We live in a society where being thin is ideal. Images of rail-thin supermodels and waif-like movie stars adorn every billboard and television screen. We idolize people who are the thinnest of the thin-the thinnest five to ten percent of our population. It’s ironic that we’re also a nation of “super-sized” portions. The average portion size at a U.S. restaurant is more than 25% larger than our European counterparts.
Unfortunately, 64% of the American public is overweight and 33% of Americans are obese. Weight loss and maintenance are cornerstones of good health and happy living. Obesity is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, obstructive sleep apnea, depressed mood, and more. For most, weight loss and weight management should be realities of life.
But for many a desire to lose weight or maintain weight loss doesn’t necessarily dictate success. Weight loss and weight maintenance are tough work and successful strategies vary based on how much weight a person needs to lose. Some people can succeed with diet and exercise alone; others need more invasive interventions like surgery. And even for those who are lucky enough to realize their desired weight, maintenance, although more straight-forward, can be even more difficult than the initial weight loss.
Weight loss: diet and exercise
The status of a person’s weight is best determined by their Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a calculation derived from dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. For the calculation-averse, a BMI calculator is available on the National Institutes of Health website.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people with BMI’s between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered normal weight. People with BMI’s between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with BMI’s between 30 and 39.9 are classified as obese. Finally, people with BMI’s greater than 40 are categorized as morbidly obese.
For Americans who are simply overweight, self-control measures are a good place to start. Medical intervention is best reserved for obese individuals or overweight people who have medical problems or have failed self-managed diets on numerous occasions. Although exercise is important in any weight loss or weight maintenance regimen, research shows that diet is the most effective means of weight loss. A successful diet is a diet which is both balanced and calorically-restricted.
What does “calorically-restricted” mean? Everybody has a distinctive Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). BMR is defined as the minimum number of calories needed to maintain life activity at rest. It varies based on age, activity level, genetics and sex (men have higher BMR’s than women). For example, a Mr. Universe body builder has a BMR that may be several times that of a bed-ridden senior citizen. In order to lose weight, a person must consume fewer calories than their BMR or maintain a diet equal to their minimum caloric requirements and burn off enough calories exercising to undercut their BMR.